HATTIESBURG - David
Freeman lowers himself in a chair and absently runs his right hand
through his still-thick, silver-tipped hair. "It's thinning
already," he says wearily before looking up with a sheepish
smile. "Bet by next week I'll be having to wear a hat. Oh,
well; doesn't matter."
He shrugs his shoulders good-naturedly, then grins.
Today the chemotherapy's finally getting to him, and though he tries
hard not to let it show, it does.
Freeman, 41, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma June
28. He's at "Grade 2" out of the three stages, but he's
been able to stay emotionally strong for the last few weeks. Unfortunately,
the tough physical treatment for his cancer is only the beginning
of a long battle.
"I'm not used to being on this side of the coin,"
the big man says. He shifts uncomfortably and looks away, his cheeks
stealing heat from the air and turning a pale crimson. "I'm
overwhelmed by the attention - well, 'blessed' is a better word."
A strong-faithed Christian who works as an athletic
trainer at Poplarville High School, Freeman is convinced this illness
that crept up on him so quickly is now being used as a tool by God.
"I will tell you what I know," he says with firm conviction:
"God's in control. There's no anxiety on my side. My wife and
I accept whatever God's laid out for us and we are at peace."
Bone marrow drive planned for Aug. 16
On Monday, Aug. 16, Freeman's employer, Hattiesburg
Clinic, will hold a bone marrow drive at its facility - not only
to help Freeman, a Southern Miss alumnus, but also to help others
suffering from life-threatening illnesses.
"We are excited that Hattiesburg Clinic and Southern
Miss have teamed up to promote this bone marrow drive," Freeman's
boss, Mike Williamson, director of sports medicine at Hattiesburg
Clinic, said of the event, which will also kick off the promotion
of the Big Dave Athletic Training Scholarship. "David and his
family cannot extend their gratitude enough to those who plan on
donating and to those who have generously given to the scholarship."
The bone marrow drive will be held from noon-5 p.m.
in the second-floor conference rooms at Hattiesburg Clinic, 415
South 28th Ave., Hattiesburg. No appointment is necessary and the
process takes about 15 minutes, with donors completing a form and
having two vials of blood drawn. The results will be included in
the National Marrow Donor Program Registry, so that matches across
the country might be created.
"As of right now we have not found a match (for
Freeman), so we will continue to pray until a bone marrow match
is found," Williamson said. "We also have the comfort
of knowing that if a match is not found for David at our drive,
there is a possibility that a match will be found for someone else."
His life is an example to all
Freeman is married to Sarah, a retired employee of
the Army-Air Force Exchange Service, and they live in Wiggins. "I'm
telling you, we are just overwhelmed," Sarah Freeman says of
all the attention the couple's friends, co-workers and church members
have shown them. "What God is doing is bringing our community
together. Dave and I both just want everyone to see what God is
doing in our lives and we just hope to help someone, to touch someone."
Carl Merritt, principal at Poplarville High School
for the past four years, says the faculty and staff at the school
want to do everything they can for Freeman because he's already
affected them with the way he lives his life.
"He's touched so many people. That's why this
is so difficult," Merritt said of Freeman's diagnosis. "I
have met a lot of folks in my life in education and, by far, he's
the most genuine person I've met. You don't get lip service from
David; you get a genuine compassion from him. He's become one of
our family, and when family's sick, it upsets you."
Merritt said that when he first spoke to faculty members
gathering to meet for the upcoming school year, he said only two
words when it came to what was at the top of their agenda: "David
"We are pulling for him," Merritt adds.
"Every now and then we meet people who make us think, 'What
would we do without him?' He's a great man of faith and dedication
and there's nothing we wouldn't do for him."
John Miller, Poplarville High School's athletic director
and basketball and tennis coach, said he's been working with Freeman
for "going on three years, and I tell ya, if he was a youngster,
I would adopt him," he says with a laugh. "He's a fine
Christian man who cares about his profession and about kids. I have
to tell him to go home. He's up here at the crack of dawn and leaves
"David goes the extra mile. I think the world
of him," Miller adds. "He's a fine, outstanding man and
I just hope that people will be compassionate, because this can
happen to any of us. I would hope they would donate; it's for a
good cause. I'm scared to death of needles, but I'm willing!"
Poplarville head football coach Pat Morris says the
community wants to do anything needed when it comes to Freeman.
"David's a very stable man concerned about athletes,"
he says. "His beliefs transfer to his work on a daily basis.
(His illness) came as a shock to us. He's looking at such an uphill
battle; you have to have admiration for his attitude."
Freeman, who had already spent a lot of time working
with cancer patients, is thankful for the friends in his life now
that he needs them the most. "You always wonder about things.
I never knew until now the impact. Them wanting to help
" He can't finish the sentence. He looks away again.
Southern Miss scholarship created
Freeman received a bachelor's degree in athletic training
and a master's degree in sport administration, both from Southern
Miss. He's been working as an athletic trainer since 1996 and has
been with Hattiesburg Clinic since 2002.
"He's not just an athletic trainer to the kids
he works with," said Williamson. "And he's not just a
co-worker to us. He's a friend. He's one of the most unselfish people
I've ever met, and if this bone marrow drive finds a match for someone
else, he'd be the first one to say that he was proud to have been
a part of it. If anyone's deserving of help, it's David. He's never
said 'Why me?' He's so strong; it's unbelievable this illness hit
him, of all people."
Freeman's other co-workers feel the same. "We
are delighted to join forces with Southern Miss for two such rewarding
causes," said Jennifer Venditti, communications coordinator
with Hattiesburg Clinic. "Each time I have spoken with David
about the bone marrow drive or the scholarship that has been created
in his name, tears come to his eyes. He is overwhelmed by all the
support people have shown and amazed at how quickly this has come
"Southern Miss has been wonderful to work with.
Upon hearing about the drive, they immediately wanted to know how
they could become involved. From that point on, we have been working
closely to spread the word about the drive and the scholarship."
Trenton Gould, director of athletic training education
at Southern Miss, says that those who donate blood to try to get
matched can also donate to the scholarship fund, or just do one
or the other. The scholarship, which was funded by an anonymous
donor, already has a recipient, who will be named later today.
Myeloma affects tens of thousands
Dr. Linda M. Pottern, writing for the National Cancer
Institute, says that "multiple myeloma is a cancer of the plasma
cells that are usually found in the bone marrow. These cells produce
antibodies that normally circulate in the blood and help ward off
In the 2003 New England Journal of Medicine, it was
noted that "of (the) more than 1 million Americans who develop
cancer each year, more than 14,600 people will be diagnosed with
A new study shows patients treated with
high-dose chemotherapy and bone marrow stem cell transplantation
may live longer than those treated with standard therapies. Among
401 patients evaluated, researchers found that rates of complete
response, or patients who have undetectable myeloma protein in serum
or urine, were higher in the high-dose group relative to the standard-therapy
group (44 percent vs. 8 percent)."
Intermittent bone pain initially brings multiple myeloma
patients to a doctor and the condition primarily affects older individuals.
Red flags include back pain; pain with a band-like distribution
around the body; pain not relieved with conventional methods (i.e.,
rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, acetaminophen); associated
constitutional symptoms (fever, weight loss, dehydration); and progressive
neurologic deficit in the lower extremities.
The International Myeloma Foundation, founded in 1990,
dedicates itself to improving the quality of life of myeloma patients
while working toward prevention and cure. The foundation is focusing
on its own educational efforts during Myeloma Awareness Week Aug.
20-30. The foundation provides materials free of charge for distribution,
including easy-to-read patient handbooks and two-sided tip cards
covering myeloma symptoms and diagnosis.
The foundation's Web states, "Previously a disease
of the elderly, today myeloma is being diagnosed in people in their
30s, 40s and 50s. Only 30 percent of all myeloma patients can expect
to survive five years; those who do are primarily the patients with
an early diagnosis. Yet despite the rise in incidence among younger
patients, many oncologists see few cases and are unfamiliar with
myeloma's early signs - such as low back pain - that may mimic other
common conditions. In fact, a significant number of people with
myeloma do not experience any symptoms at all, and the disease is
only identified through routine blood tests. Proper education about
recognizing and evaluating these abnormal test results is especially
Whatever the future holds, he's ready
Without any treatment, Freeman is looking at 18 to
36 months of life. With just chemotherapy, he might make it to four
years. With the transplant, he's looking at much more time.
That's why Hattiesburg Clinic and Southern Miss are
working together to give Freeman a chance to stay around a lot longer.
"(Hattiesburg Clinic employees) are very exited about the bone
marrow drive," said Venditti. "I feel like with our nearly
1,400 employees and the large number of faculty and students at
Southern Miss, this will be a very successful event."
"I want to thank everyone for their generosity
and prayers," Freeman says. "Right now, I'm just going
on with my life, taking care of these kids (at the school). The
disease has changed everything; the small things, they aren't as
important anymore. And what people have done for me ... how do I
describe my thanks?"
Freeman pauses. "(My wife and I) don't dwell
on what might happen to me," he says, his voice a little louder.
"What happens happens. It's no big deal."
He's quiet for a moment, thinking of what could happen.
When he speaks again, it's a little more quietly. "I'll just
get to go 'home' before you do," he says with a wink in his
He laughs then, his heart a little lighter at the
thought of it.
For more information about the International Myeloma
Foundation, visit www.myeloma.org or call 800-452-CURE (800-452-2873).